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Citizens express concerns to police at forum
Shortly after being introduced as the new chief of the Columbus Division of Police in March, Walter Distelzweig announced the department would hold several community forums to gather input from the city's citizens regarding neighborhood policing and ways to improve the working relationship between communities and local law enforcement.
On June 4, a standing room only crowd at Westgate Recreation Center had their say.
"The purpose for these forums is that we want to hear about the comments and concerns you have, the positive and the negative, about the issues in your neighborhood," said Distelzweig.
For two hours, officials fielded questions ranging from making a citizen's arrest to procedures regarding victims and witnesses to crimes who speak little to no English. Residents also made it clear they were concerned about the proposed income tax increase and the affect it would have on public safety.
Last month, city officials voted to place an income tax issue on the Aug. 4 ballot. According to the city officials, raising the income tax from 2 percent to 2.5 percent would raise approximately $90-$100 million a year if it passes, but if it does not, many departments would be adversely affected, including the Columbus Division of Police.
Distelzweig said the department would have to lay off 297 officers and cut services such as freeway units, policing to high schools, and reassign officers who work as liaisons with neighborhood groups, such as block watches.
"With the possible cuts, I fear that the community liaison officers will be phased away," said Jay McCallister, coordinator of the Great Western Blockwatch and Civic Association. "Every blockwatch depends on their community liaisons and with over 250 people in the blockwatch, a great number of people depend on that connection."
Distelzweig quipped that they must be scripting these meeting because he heard similar comments at prior forums around the city, but said they will keep all comments in mind when evaluating the entire program.
Stanley Thornburgh, member of the Greater Hilltop Area Commission, asked if the department had a backup plan for if the income tax issue fails and then requested comforting thoughts if they have to lay off hundreds of officers and readjust their policing strategies.
Distelzweig said they have many plans, each written in pencil, but added the department will work with whatever hand they are given come August.
"The reassuring words I can give is that we have got the best police department in the United States and the best people working here," he said. "They are dedicated to what they do and invested to their communities just like all of you are. They are dedicated to their jobs and I can guarantee that we will do the best we can with whatever we are dealt with."
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